From Media Accountability to Violence: Audience Participation and Opposition in the Proposed LED Bulb Procurement Episode on Social Media

Harsha Man Maharjan

Though scholars have discussed the role of audience in media accountability, we still need to understand this process on social media. What does happen when audiences start to criticize journalistic performances on social media? This paper suggests that as the media accountability moves to digital platforms the demarcation between media accountability and mediated violence against journalists and media houses becomes blurred. This article explains the blurring of this demarcation.

There are basically two strands of studies on the audience activities on social media. One kind of literature focuses on the performance of audiences, and highlights how the nature of activities have become uncivil and aggressive, promoting violence (Recuero 2015, Udupa 2018). While focusing on abusive nature of reaction of audiences, these studies have given less emphasis to the role of audiences to make media accountable. The second kind of literature gives emphasis to the role of audience to criticize journalistic performances. One interpretation of such activities is crowd-criticism which is different from other means of quality control of media content called media accountability systems as press council, ombudsman, press reviews, etc (Bertrand 2003). This literature does mention about the new role of audience in making media accountable raising the issues of lapses in journalism, it downplays the possibility of media violence against journalists or media house.

 This article looks into the connection between media accountability and mediated violence through a Nepali case. This case is about the representation of proposed LED bulb procurement by Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) in 2017 by Kantipur, Nepali daily and the way audiences opposed Kantipur’s representation using the evidences they collected through other media’s counter representation. As shown by researchers (Bennett, Gressett and Halton 1985; McCoy 2001) in other cases, other media rolled out a sustained critique of Kantipur which also made audiences aware about the other aspects of the episode not highlighted by Kantipur. By examining audience’s participation and opposition on social media pages of Kantipur, I suggest that on social media, the demarcation of media accountability and media violence has blurred mainly due to three reasons. First, news media encourage audiences to engage with contents by sharing, reacting, commenting on the posts. Second, audiences have access to counter evidence or additional information not given priority by the main news media which break news. Third, due to the nature of digital interaction, it is easy to be part of communities in virtual space where everybody with internet connectivity can participate.

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